Misery Loves Company
"I think this may well be the worst thing that ever happened to me," groaned Sherlock, gulping in air in awkward bursts, and attempting to control the violent shuddering.
"I really am sorry," soothed John Watson, his bedside manner mingled with genuine contrition. "I know it's awful, but you have to be past the worst now."
"You seem to be talking to a child, John. Where are they? I don't see them in the room." He followed this question with what would have been a sarcastically overemphasised look around him, but his depleted strength robbed the gesture of its energy.
John rolled his eyes in response to his flat-mate's pettish utterance, and continued patiently.
"Are you done for a mo? Shall I take the bowl out?"
Sherlock clutched the washing up bowl protectively to his chest, and spat a few times, the stringy saliva refusing to separate. John silently passed him a wet flannel, and he wiped his mouth, collapsing back onto his pillows with a moan, and relinquishing his bowl. Eyes deliberately averted, John removed the unsavoury item, and could be heard tipping the contents into the toilet and rinsing it for the next inevitable bout.
It seemed so unfair. Sherlock, in his often precarious role as Britain's first consulting detective, considered himself to have an iron constitution. He had plunged into a morass of unhealthy situations, often exposing his peerless immune system to a variety of pathogens, and had experienced life at its most colourful. Rummaging through skips, plunging into dirty water, going undercover in drug dens, or that time on that rat-infested Dutch cargo ship - all survived with never a second thought.
Yet it seemed this exotic and opportunistic exposure had not prepared him for life with a general practitioner from a perfectly normal practice, who dealt regularly with children, and the unexciting Rotavirus outbreak; the British GP's herald of Spring. John's immunity acquired during paediatric and A&E jobs may have waned sufficiently to allow him to contract the bug, however, after a mildly unsettled few hours, he was recovered.
When Sherlock arrived back from his latest absence, John assumed he was only being typically tight lipped, before he made a bolt for, and almost made it to, the bathroom. Ah. Literally tight lipped, then.
John had confidently reassured his flatmate that this was only a childish gastroenteritis bug that mainly affected babies and toddlers, and that adults could expect to shake off as easily as he had done. However, this particular adult seemed to be the exception that proved the rule. The detective never could bring himself to do anything in anything other than spectacular fashion, although this particular example would appear to repudiate his claims of relative infallibility.
He had now violently vomited at least once every fifteen minutes for the past eight hours, each bout accompanied by paroxysms of retching where he appeared to be trying to cough up his own colon.
Initially, John had allowed Sherlock to display a traditional male British stiff upper lip, doing no more than bringing a pint of water through to the bathroom, and not inflicting the humiliation of a witness upon him. However, after the first two hours, when the detective began to droop exhausted across the toilet bowl, leaving a red line across his sharp cheekbones from resting upon the porcelain, the doctor helped him to bed, and found his ministrations, although probably resented, were not rejected.
Now he returned to Sherlock's room, together with clean bowl and damp flannel. His friend lay with his eyes closed, and a look of abject misery etched onto his face. His dark hair was plastered to his forehead with sweat. Unthinkingly, he began to mop Sherlock's face with the cool cloth, then froze as he realised what he was doing, and waited for the eruption of indignation. He began to feel slightly alarmed when it didn't come, and the patient whimpered slightly and turned his face into the cool, muttering;
"Here, Sherlock. Just a few mouthfuls of this stuff."
He helped Sherlock to sit up take a few gulps of the rehydration drink – his friend's hands were so shaky he could scarcely hold the glass – then eased him back down again.
For perhaps ten minutes, Sherlock dozed, and John flicked idly through his copy of the BMJ, feeling virtuous to have removed it from its plastic covering this month. Then, Sherlock's eyes shot open, and he was sitting up again, clutching frantically at the bowl as another round of paroxysms wracked his thin body. This bout went on for so long that he was unable to properly draw breath, and the moans escaping him began to sound frightened. At this point, John's natural sympathy overruled his diffidence. He held the quaking frame, rubbing Sherlock's back, and wiping his hair out of his eyes with the flannel.
"Easy, Sherlock, it's OK, you're OK now. OK, breath now, bring it up, don't worry, you'll be OK."
I feel awful about this. John was also starting to feel seriously uneasy. His own stomach seemed to cramp in sympathy at the detective's convulsant efforts to heave and breath at the same time, and a miserable guilt, that he knew to be irrational, gnawed at him. Next moment, he had cause to feel worse. Removing the barriers of diffidence he and Sherlock usually maintained between them seemed to disinhibit his friend also, as, coming towards the end of this latest bout of torment, Sherlock began to cry; nothing noisy or dramatic, just grizzling faintly.
"Ohh. Hurts. Plea' make i' sto'."
Quietly, John drew Sherlock in, so the dark head rested upon his shoulder.
"Alright. Alright. It'll be over soon, promise."
This time, when he encouraged a few sips of Dioralyte, Sherlock gagged and showed signs of becoming tearful again. His face was gaunt, his eyes sunken.
"What are you like with needles, Sherlock?" John phrased the question carefully, in view of what he suspected of Sherlock's history.
"Fine. 'Kay. Don' care. Cn y' give m 'ything t' stop this? 'Ny anti-sickness stuff?"
"Won't help, I'm afraid. I've got a couple of bags of dextrosaline though, and I nicked an IV kit from work. I'll nab some of your KCl as well. Resting your stomach and rehydration should help. But don't tell anyone. I don't want a fitness to practice hearing, and I 'spect you should be in hospital, though I'm sure you won't go."
"Too righ'. Leas' cn be in m' own room."
John quietly fetched the kit, milking the fluid through the giving set and clamping the line. He hung it on a coat hanger on the wardrobe door, then slipped a tourniquet around Sherlock's wrist and flicked the vein on the back of his hand.
Sherlock watched dispassionately as with ease of long practice, John slid the cannula home, secured it with plasters, removed the needle, and attached the bag of fluids.
"You've done that b'fore." His voice was half-way to regaining his habitual impeccable vowels and crisp consonants, although there was a soft, slack quality to his voice that make him sound smoothly languorous.
"Once or twice."
"'Sno' really a sharp scratch, y' know."
"More 'f a stabbing, pushing sensation."
"I know. I let students practice on me now and then."
"How kinky. Letting y'self be penetrated by all those nubile young men."
"They're mostly girls these days."
"How dull for you." It was the character of the almost-smile that tugged at John. He's actually trying to be brave about this. He could only honour it by matching Sherlock's tone.
"You're supposed to be ill. Shut up."
"Firs' my flatmate disables me, then penetrates me, and now's abusing me - 'm calling Childline."
"They'll probably have me arrested, and you'll have to go to hospital to find someone to look after you. There'll be an old lady in the next bed shouting 'nurse, nurse', and then trying to get in bed with you."
"Alright, I'll be'yave. Can y' wipe my hair again?"
Smiling, John complied with the request, which sounded weak, but as autocratic as an order to send a text on his behalf, settling himself on the bed as he did so, legs stretched comfortably in front of him. Sherlock wriggled to rest his forehead against his thigh. The long black eyelashes drifted shut again.
Finally, I think he's asleep. Properly. Probably should stop stroking his hair now. However, John didn't. His fingers carried on absently carding through the dark curls even as Sherlock's breathing deepened and slowed, then gave a little hitch, as the detective snuggled closer and gave a little sigh, before slurring out four words.
"I love you, John."
Every muscle in John wanted to freeze, but the soldier in him that always responded to danger kicked in, and there was not the slightest change of rhythm of the stroking hand. He was sure Sherlock was asleep. Mostly sure… Mostly asleep... the important thing was not to react…. his breathing was stilling again now… that was OK then…
Sherlock jack-knifed upright.
And threw up over John's feet.
Oops, Sherlock… not sure that's how you planned on telling John your secret! Where do we go from here?